Beyond mobility – EPA delivers metrics for sustainable transportation

Since the EPA, DOT and HUD joined forces to create the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and laid out six livability principles, there has been a lot of discussion: How might federal funding guidelines change? How will we measure livability?  Does this mean we can only have one kind of lettuce?

It appears answers may be arriving.  EPA has released a Guide to Sustainable Transportation Performance Measures.  According to EPA,

Many transportation agencies are now being called upon by their stakeholders to plan, build, and operate transportation systems that – in addition to achieving the important goals of mobility and safety – support a variety of environmental, economic, and social objectives. These include protecting natural resources, improving public health, strengthening energy security, expanding the economy, and providing mobility to disadvantaged people.

This shift has been decades in the making and is driven by a variety of factors. One factor is the desire for a more integrated and holistic approach to transportation decision-making. Researchers have been shedding light on the complex interrelationships between our built and natural environments and drawing attention to the need to better consider the multifaceted implications of transportation system changes. At the same time, advanced computer tools are making it easier to quantify and visualize these relationships.

The guide contains 12 examples measures for incorporating sustainable community objectives into transportation decision-making.  The key here is that these measures are going beyond mobility – looking at other factors like carbon intensity and mixed land uses, which should be important inputs into our transportation planning processes, but have not been uniformly adopted.

If you look closely, you’ll also notice many of these measures match well with another tool that HUD, one of the Sustainable Communities partners, has said they will use to evaluate projects: LEED ND.  Transit accessibility, bike and pedestrian level of service, mixed land uses, land consumption and carbon intensity are all measures which play an important role in the rating system.

The document includes a description of the stage in a planning process in which each measure might be useful, the specific metrics one would use, guidance on calculations and data sources and examples of planning process where that measure has been used.

This document doesn’t say how or if funding guidelines will change.  This also isn’t a comprehensive guide on how to include sustainability or livability into a specific planning process (environmental review, for example).  However, this could be a useful tool for any city, county or other entity involved in transportation decision-making to build a better process.   It starts to place metrics around the aspirational language we’ve heard from politicians.

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